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Propaganda, Persuasion and Playwriting

Inherit the Wind by


Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee
Conversation: Lessons of History

Includes links to Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

Though based on the famous Scopes "Monkey Trail" where William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow
clashed over a teacher's right to teach evolution, this play addresses other issues of freedom of thought by
students and teachers. See how the various characters use propaganda techniques and persuasive
strategies to convince others to believe and do what they are told. Learn the value of challenging what
you hear and of testing claims that may seem valid on the surface. See handout To Convince and To
Persuade.

For the Teacher: Students may connect with the conflict in the play in light of the recent high profile court
cases about teaching intelligent design and creationism as part of high school science courses. Depending
on the students religious convictions, class members may take firm opposing positions to the issues raised
when the lawyers use the Bible in the closing arguments.

Some students of history will recognize that this play about intellectual freedom was published around the
McCarthy Era and that the Scopes trial was not mentioned in history books in American high schools and
colleges until after publication of this play in which the authors mention the connection their play and that
historical incident.

The students may be interested to know that the Scopes trial received the first on-the-scene mass
communications coverage of a criminal trial. [Scopes Trial (4 February 2006) wikepedia,com]

To develop understanding of ways one can use persuasive appeals to bring about change in thinking
or behavior
To develop understanding of ways literature reflects social, economic and political issues of the
times.
To demonstrate understanding of setting, conflict, and character in drama
To demonstrate understanding of informative/persuasive writing
To practice playwriting and/or digital media skills (option to submit copy of written script)
To practice research skills while developing Student Congress Bill
To demonstrate dramatic reading skills
To hone collaboration skills by working in pairs, triads or small groups

Adapted from McDougal Littell Lessons in History


Anna J. Small Roseboro http://teachingenglishlanguagearts.com/ Page 1
Beginning the Conversation: Act I
1. Do you believe the United States government has the right to legislate what is taught in public schools? Why?
Why not?
2. After reading the opening paragraphs on page three, what do you infer will be the impact of the set design the
authors Lawrence and Lee have described?
3. What do you learn about Rachel from reading the Italicized writing at the top of page five? What do suppose will
be her role as the plot unfolds?
4. What do you learn about Bertram Cates personality in the opening scene of this play?
5. Since stage curtains are not being used, what stage directions do the authors use to indicate the scene is
shifting?
6. Why do you think the authors point out that the townspeople are not caricatured rubes? What hint to that
comment is the presence of the lemonade and hot dog stands?
7. What do you think Rachel has told Brady that makes him feel so confident about winning his case?
8. Why do you think the authors, Lawrence and Lee, chose to have Henry Drummonds shadow appear on stage
before the audience could see him?
9. From your experience, observation, or reading how common is the treatment Bertram Cate surprise receives from
the town? Explain.
10. Do you agree with Drummonds comment, when you lose your power to laugh, you lose your power to think
straight.? Why? Why not?
11. Is there anyone in your life that makes you feel the way Rachel feels about her father? If this feeling is
something you can talk about, do so.

Continuing the Conversation: Act II


12. Hornbeck declares, I no reporter, Colonel. Im a critic. What is the difference?
13. During the prayer meeting, what propaganda technique does Reverend Brown use to switch so smoothly from
preaching about creation to castigating Henry Drummond?
14. Do you believe Brady is earnest when he cautions Brown about cursing Drummond? How does this action
influence your opinion of Brady?
15. Do you see any difference between truth and right as Drummond tries to explain it? How would you explain
the difference?
16. What do you think about Drummonds calling Matthew Harrison Brady to testify for the defense?
17. Compare the way Drummond is able swing public opinion to his side with the method used by Brown during the
prayer meeting.

Tying It All Together: Act III


18. What does Bertram Cates posture in the opening scene suggest about his hopes for the outcome of the trial?
19. Can you identify with Drummonds experience with Golden Dancer? What do you think is the significance of that
story to this play? To history?
20. In what ways do events in the dramatic closing scene teach or confirm what you know about human nature and
historical events?

Adapted from McDougal Littell Lessons in History


Anna J. Small Roseboro http://teachingenglishlanguagearts.com/ Page 2
Moving beyond the play:
21. Peruse handouts on Student Congress (Parliamentary Debate) and Playwriting

22. Choose a topic of controversy that interests you and with a partner or small group,
create a Student Congress Bill that proposes a solution to that problem raised or present a
speech to convince or persuade on a topic of your choice and approved by the teacher. See
procon.org. Have SPAR to practice, then class choose topic for Parliamentary Debate.

23. Write a scene that includes one or two characters who


survived in this play. What happens next? In five years? In a
small group, decide among the individual scenes which one your
group would like to polish, practice and present as a dramatic reading or create a
video of group presentation.

Grading Considerations:
See General Grading Guidelines
See Playwriting Check List
See Persuasive Speech Feedback Form

Potential to Demonstrate Common Core State Standards in ELA


Key Ideas and Details RL 9-10.4,5 and 6. RL Text Types and Purposes - W.9-10.3, W.11-12.3
11-12, 1,2,.3. Production and Distribution of Writing - W.9-10.4,
Craft and Structure RL 9-10, 4 and 5. RL W.9-10.5, W.9-10.6W.11-12.4, W.11-12.5, W.11-
11-12, 4,5,6 12.6
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas RL 9-
10, 7 and 9. RL 11-12, 7
Range of Reading and Level of Text
Complexity RL 9-10,4 RL 11-12, 10
Knowledge of Language - RL 11-12, 3

Adapted from McDougal Littell Lessons in History


Anna J. Small Roseboro http://teachingenglishlanguagearts.com/ Page 3